As I stared out the airplane window at a sea of white cumulus clouds, I saw a hint of small snowflake-like ice crystals on the small window. Smiling at the sight, I reflected on how magical nature is and how key it was to the two weeks I had just spent by myself in Sedona, Ariz.
Swirling through my mind were all the people I met, the conversations shared and the revelations about nature, beauty and how we humans fit (or might no longer fit) into the grander scheme here on planet Earth.
Adventures with nature and beauty
Arriving somewhere alone is an invitation to open to encounters you might miss if you have the security of even one other person with you. Sedona has special memories for me, as I wrote my book Confessions of a Middle-Aged Hippie there. This year, random interactions with strangers often led me on adventures I could never have imagined. Adventures of the kind I enjoy most. Person-to-person, sharing ideas and perspectives while surrounded by the majestic beauty of the natural world around me.
It's inescapable in Sedona. Nature's beauty is everywhere you look and everywhere you go. It reminds me of how people have immersed themselves in nature with the intention of losing themselves. What most often happens is somehow one finds themselves instead. Nature has a way of doing that. As I've written before, I believe nature is our greatest teacher, teaching about ourselves and the world around us.
Nature — a metaphor for life
It's been said that nature is a metaphor for life. That each experience we have in nature has the potential to reflect back to us something about our lives. I agree. While hiking alone, I realized that I was being offered the opportunity to truly experience being in the moment. If I drifted, one misstep could prove dangerous.
In our day-to-day lives it isn't always easy to accomplish. It's so easy to rush from one thing to the next, rarely stopping to truly experience each moment. Nature asks us to stop, look and engage with the world around us. To marvel at nature's infinite intelligence and wisdom. At nature's pace, not ours.
It reminded me of a Lao Tzu quote: "Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished." A powerful lesson from nature for us humans. Sierra Club founder and naturalist John Muir always shared great wisdom about nature, "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." Is this as true for you as it is for me?
It's amazing how writers, artists, photographers, philosophers, scientists and creatives throughout the ages have recognized the power of nature to heal us, to teach us, to inspire us, and change us in some way after every encounter we have with it. As Einstein said: "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." Indeed.
Experiencing versus consuming nature
On the day I was hiking with a friend, we were descending slowly through an uneven trail of rocks to a bubbling creek below us, absorbing the elements we encountered. We stepped aside to let a youngish man who seemed in a hurry pass us. We continued our mindful walk and conversation, and within what seemed like moments, the same man was on his way back up, still in a hurry. I casually said something about how quickly he'd finished. He said "Yeah. I took a few pictures. It was nice. Been there, done that."
That made me think how people hurry through life as consumers of everything. Consumers of products, consumers of other people, consumers of nature. It was an interesting idea a young adventure guide had shared, compliments of someone he admired, radical environmentalist Derrick Jensen. How people are consuming nature the way they consume everything else in their lives. Think about that for a moment. Our ongoing belief that the economy is a living thing, literally has us collectively consuming nature, often to humanity's detriment.
Maybe it's why humans have become so disconnected from the natural world, flocking to oceans and mountains on holidays, either consciously or unconsciously, craving an experience with the natural world. Seeking to connect with its power and beauty. It fascinates me how on each trip to Sedona (this was my 11th yearly trip), I meet people from around the world who've come specifically because of the incredible natural beauty and hiking trails. People from England, Amsterdam, Australia, Japan and every other place imaginable.
Collecting experiences, not things
In my conversation with the adventure guide, we also talked about how younger generations are less desiring of collecting things, leaving some marketers with a dilemma. It seems young people, and older people too, value experiences now more than things.
A study about millennials sponsored by Eventbrite reported "...this generation not only highly values experiences, but they are increasingly spending time and money on them: from concerts and social events to athletic pursuits, to cultural experiences and events of all kinds. For this group, happiness isn't as focused on possessions or career status. Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life's opportunities."
Even though I'm far from being a millennial, this is true for me too. Simply put, people of all ages are spending money on experiences. Not things. And science shows you'll be healthier and happier for it.
How does nature make you feel?
Seeing the elegant postures of dead trees or pieces of tree bark lying on the ground to decay reminded me that even in death and dying, there is a natural order and beauty to nature. I kept thinking how nature has survived and will continue to survive in spite of us humans.
In the challenging times we currently live, a time of extremes of nature we see with "super"-hurricanes, floods and fires, one wonders if we can change the conversation — change our behaviour to the kind that reveres and respects nature versus how nature can contribute to the economy. Will we humans learn the ultimate lesson about living in harmony and co-operation with the natural world?
"How do you feel when you spend time in nature?" Of the people I've asked, the answer always includes words like, "inspired, in awe, re-energized, renewed, invigorated, healed." What words would you answer if asked how nature makes you feel? My hope is that more people will consciously spend quality time in nature and take a stand for preserving it for ourselves and for the generations to come.